In retrospect, it seems like Converge have always released albums in pairs. Conceding that 1994’s Halo in a Haystack and 1995’s Caring and Killing are essentially the same record; there’s the raw, abrasive coupling of Petitioning the Empty Sky (1996) and When Forever Comes Crashing (1998); the openly hostile, definitive moments of Jane Doe (2001) and You Fail Me (2004); the expansive pairing of No Heroes (2006) and Axe to Fall (2009); and now the more moody, introspective set of All We Love We Leave Behind (2012) and The Dusk in Us. This most recent record marks the ninth wholly original entry in the extreme-progressive-alternative-post-metallic-grind-core (or whatever) legends’ extensive catalogue and it’s one which, while flawed, only furthers the conviction that the band are in a league entirely of their own.
The Dusk in Us is very much a continuation of the aesthetic established on All We Love We Leave Behind. From the similar palette (and inner reveal) of the album artwork to the interweaving sonic textures, the record largely mirrors its predecessor in tone and style—perhaps amping up the aggression somewhat only to dial it back again with an ever so slight reduction in the “grit” of its production. This isn’t to say that the album lacks its own personality. Not by any means. Like each and every Converge outing, The Dusk in Us has its own distinct perspective which offers a snapshot of exactly where the band are at this point in their career. In a seeming continuation of this duality, it is also very much an album of two halves. The era of the “A Side” and the “B Side” has long fallen by the wayside. Yet the band’s in-house, DIY nature—not to mention their emphasis on deluxe, vinyl packages—suggests that the dichotomous nature is entirely deliberate.
The record’s first half is the more contemplative and introspective of the two. It—as well as the record itself—opens with the majestic “A Single Tear”, which sounds like a mix between “Dark Horse” and You Fail Me’s epic opening duo “First Light / Dark Light”, and is pretty much the perfect converge song. It’s furious opening builds to a soaring and utterly devastating conclusion, so that the track as a whole more or less captures the experience of listening to an entire converge record in one go. All the exaggerated and often unwarranted fluff showered over lesser acts may often be applied accurately in Converge’s case, which is to say that Jacob Bannon is a true poet, and this opening salvo’s cathartic musical offering is paired with some of the best and most affecting lyrics Jacob Bannon has ever penned:
When I heard your cry ring out
It showed me what real strength could be
As a single teardrop fell
And was swallowed by the sea
You outshined the best there was
Rewrote who I could be
When I held you for the first time
I knew I had to survive
The downside to such a powerful opening is that what immediately follows is garnered less impact by comparison. The tracks that make up the record’s first half are all great examples of Converge’s mastery of various styles. However, they feel slightly out of place following the early climax of “A Single Tear”, and their stylistic variation can’t help but hinder the flow of the album’s early moments. “Eye of the Quarrel” (as its name might suggest) feels very much like a successor to All We Love We Leave Behind’s “Aimless Arrow”, while the dredging “Under Duress”, mathy “Arkhipov Calm” and the furious hardcore of “I Can Tell You About Pain” all showcase broad elements of the band’s wheelhouse, without ever really drawing them into a complete and coherent package. By the time the album’s mournful title-track—a sullen number in the vein of similarly-placed staples like “Coral Blue”, “Worms Will Feed”, “Grim Heart/Black Rose”, “In Her Shadow” and “Phoenix in Flight”, which is simply crying out for a Scott Kelly guest spot—rolls around it doesn’t quite feel earned. Likewise, the comparative compositions above have only been listed at such length to point out that this sort of thing has sort of become standard operating procedure for the quartet. For all its inherent and apparent quality, “Side A” of The Dusk in Us never truly gels together and there’s a prevailing sense of “Converge by numbers” about the whole thing that doesn’t necessarily undermine its quality but is nonetheless far more apparent here than it has been previously.
From there, however, the record undergoes a hard reset. “Side B” comes roaring out of the gate with “Wildlife” and the brooding, though no less confrontational “Murk & Marrow” and refuses to let up from there. Even at this late stage in their career, the Nate Newton-led “Trigger” manages to sound like nothing Converge have done before, while allowing Bannon to deliver his combative verses in a more reserved fashion, while the ferocious 1–2 of “Broken by Light” and “Cannibals”—the latter of which culminates in an infectious, groovy riff that wouldn’t sound out of place on the last few Mastodon records—stands among the greatest moments of any Converge record. Where The Dusk in Us’s second half shows up its first the most though is not in the blistering pace it sets for itself but in the connections it establishes between all of its many moving parts. In comparison to the jarring transition of Side A’s climax, the similarly-toned and situated “Thousands of Miles Between Us” flows completely naturally out of the furious grind that came before it, and transitions so smoothly and so deliberately into the savage “Reptilian” that the two tracks may as well be a single piece.
A further difference between the two sides is notable shift from largely introspective subject matters to more generalised and external qualms. Throughout the album’s second half “I” and “me” becomes “we” and “us”. (This isn’t just my perception, I did an actual count of the lyrics and the ratio of “I” statements between the two halves is 31:8 compared with “we” statements which give a ratio of 5:14. Occurrences of “me” are equal at 9:9, while “us” actually tips in Side A’s favour at 6:2, although that’s largely only because of the title track.) This final, outward perspective also carries over into the record’s attitude as a whole. This is by far the most outward looking and politically and socially conscious record of Converge’s career. “Under Duress” directly engages with the recent focus on police brutality, with Bannon spouting lines like “Wouldn’t need a gun if you didn’t have one, Don’t need you to serve or protect … The delusions of control, Are rotting the root of the tree”, and even the record’s more inward-facing moments see him comparing his temperament to the Soviet admiral credited with averting global nuclear war during the Cuban Missile Crisis (that would be “Arkhipov Calm”). In this manner, The Dusk in Us provides as much of a counterpoint to All We Love We Leave Behind as it does a companion piece—trading in its regretful, personal reflection for an often more general and outwardly impassioned message.
That The Dusk in Us and All We Love We Leave Behind could possibly be considered “lesser” releases in Converge’s canon (though certainly nobody else’s), only goes to show how far beyond most bands’ capabilities they operate. The band have essentially never released a bad album and they aren’t about to start now. The Dusk in Us might not constitute the second coming of Jane Doe or You Fail Me, the way Axe to Fall arguably did before it and last year’s “Redux” edition of the latter record certainly did. However, for all its apparent flaws and arguable lesser offerings, this record is yet another masterclass in how to make bold, challenging and utterly uncompromising music. That Converge seem to have slipped into a somewhat more comfortable mode at this stage of their career perhaps says more toward them being satisfied with where they’re at than having run out of inspiration, and even if The Dusk in Us is largely “just another Converge record” it’s a damn fine one, and there are far, far worse things that could be wished upon the world.
The Dusk in Us is out now via Epitaph Records and Deathwish Inc.